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The "Soviet Nuclear-Powered Bomber" Fiasco of 1958


Sometime in early September 1958, a Western observer surreptitiously snapped a photo (below) of a large, impressive-looking bomber prototype at an airbase near Moscow.


On September 20, the Defense Department informed the White House of the discovery:



On December 1, the respected aerospace journal Aviation Week shocked the defense community with a four-page article headlined "Soviets Flight Testing Nuclear Bomber."

A nuclear-powered bomber is being flight tested in the Soviet Union. Completed about six months ago, this aircraft has been flying in the Moscow area for at least two months. It has been observed both in flight and on the ground by a wide variety of foreign observers.... In its initial testing, the new aircraft is powered by a combination of nuclear and conventional turbojet engines. Two direct air cycle nuclear powerplants are housed in 36-ft.-long nacelles slung on short pylons about halfway out each wing. These nuclear powerplants, with 6-ft.-diameter intakes and using small but high power reactors...produce about 70,000 lb. thrust each.


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